Birds – and other stuff – in flight

Belted KingfisherIt was night at the edge of the woods, the first night in awhile the sky has been so clear. We settled back in the water to watch for shooting stars, a.k.a the Perseids.

The Perseids is an annual shower of dust and ice trailing from Swift-Tuttle, a comet that whips around us every 133 years, leaving a trail of comet-junk in its wake for us to pass through on our own annual trip around the sun. As those pieces succumb to the gravity of our Terran planet, they burn up in the friction of our atmosphere – and no, they do not get to the ground – normally. If you’re watching the sky and you see a “shooting star” and it disappears while it’s still high in the sky, it is gone and did not collide with Spaceship Earth.

What makes the Perseids display particularly wonderful is it happens about this time every year, when it’s still warm enough to be summer and, if we’re lucky, cool enough for outdoor comfort.

But it was made even more spectacular this week by darkness. As we lay back to watch early Wednesday morning, the moon was in the nearly-gone stage of brilliance, and there were virtually no clouds to block the stellar view. This shower is said to have more “fireballs” than usual – large burning chunks that appear brighter than many of the brightest stars. I watched one blazing comet-scrap suddenly appear, race a thousand miles or so, and leave a distinct exhaust trail as it burned itself into oblivion.

Throw in an orchestra of tree frogs and an occasional cricket, maybe an owl back among the distant trees, a glass of something tasty – it’s difficult to buy tickets for a better show.

Speaking of owls, they are among the most difficult, in my experience, to photograph. I love bird hunting with the Nikon, and I’ve a nice and growing collection of avifauna claiming residence in the county, but there are a few which so far have eluded me.

I often hear an owl or two hoo-hoo-hoooo tauntingly from the woods outside my window. The trouble is, as one tippy-toes quietly as possible with a flashlight through the woods, the huntees hear and see the hunter long before any lens is even close to where they, by the way, no longer are.

Great Blue Herons also are camera shy. I have stood for seemingly long periods watching, quietly, as one of those great birds wades through the tall grass and shallow water in search of a tasty frog on which to dine. I’ve ever so slowly lifted the camera toward my eye – and just as I’d peek through the viewfinder, he (or she) would bound into the air and move out of camera range, knowing exactly which lens I have mounted and what distance is just a bit too far for a decent shot.

In the same fashion, a Belted Kingfisher has avoided me, sitting barely visible in the lakeside pine until I had drifted the canoe almost into camera range before the little blue and rust creature launches in a huge circle around me, staying too far and too fast.

But I’m getting closer to each. Though I am still trying to convince the Kingfisher I am harmless and will not steal his soul with my camera, I have captured a few pretty nice heron-in-flight images.

And one night this week a reader called to say a pair of owls had been stopping by his house the past few evenings. Maybe I’d like to stop by one evening and try my luck, he offered.

Yes, indeed, I would. It’s pretty great to have a year-round hunting season.

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